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4th February 2016

Universities look to address medicine degree bias

Lack of medicine students from underprivileged backgrounds is seen as a sign limited support and guidance throughout A-levels and university applications

It is no secret that at university as a whole underprivileged students are under-represented, however medicine in particular has been highlighted as a degree that exemplifies this uneven trend. Financial constraints play a big factor, especially as an undergraduate medical course lasts at least five years.

Another significant issue that has been pointed out is the application process and the level of preparation of that students have to do for the rigorous tests and interviews they face. Over 90 per cent of applications to medicine degree courses were rejected in 2014, and many of these unsuccessful attempts are seen to be down to the lack of support offered by some schools to the students applying.

The University of Manchester’s School of Medicine is one of the largest in the country, with over 6,000 undergraduates. On its website, the university stipulates its requirements at A-level, “grades AAA (after successful interview)” and, at GCSE, “at least seven subjects at grade C or above; at least five must be at A or A*”.

Despite this high entry criteria for its five-year course, the University of Manchester is one out of a handful of universities that offer a foundation or “pre-clinic year” as part of the Access to Medicine programme.

According to the university’s website, this scheme “is specifically designed to prepare students from diverse educational backgrounds for entry to the five-year Medicine MBChB degree.”

Access to Medicine states that “access courses provide a route for learners wishing to study medicine or dentistry who do not have formal qualifications in A-level Biology and Chemistry.

“These routes can help to widen participation in medicine and dentistry by providing an entry route to those with different experiences and backgrounds to those who are eligible for standard entry and graduate entry medical and dental programmes.”

In spite of such access programmes in place, according to a recent report 65 per cent of trainee doctors have at least one parent with a degree qualification or higher and “a lack of support and guidance for applying to medical school is a major barrier for many students from less advantaged backgrounds.”

A third year Manchester medical student from Gloucestershire, whose parents are both artists, said the application process was “fairly lengthy and time-consuming.” She added that she can appreciate the difficulties people may have in applying with limited help and resources from their school.

Initiatives like the Access to Medicine programme are an acknowledgement that there is a great need for diversity amongst medical students, but there is certainly still a long way to go in making the course an opportunity for all.

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